I’ve been having a great deal of fun reading some of the more modern “classic” comics. On one hand there is the spy/noir masterpiece that is the Brubaker Captain America. Over here we have Priest’s Black Panther. Both make for some solid reading.
Writer: Christopher Priest
Artists: Joe Jusko, Mike Manley, Mark Bright
Quick Review: This storyline is much more a continuation of the previous for five issues than an individual arc. Even the “Enemy of the State” storyline (#9-12) doesn’t seem like it would work without the previous 8 issues setting everything up. But with that in mind this is still a great series of funny books. This is a fun, stylized mix of politics and adventure that really defines T’Challa’s place in the Marvel universe in a way that books that came before and after don’t. Really, the only miss in these issues is the drastic change in art style. None of the artists are bad, but it is a rather large shift.
Analysis: Let’s go ahead and discuss that art. Taking over art chores from Texiera is Joe Jusko. Jusko is a nice followup to Tex in that they have similar yet distinct styles. Almost painterly. Or at least that is how they are colored. Next up is Manley. The best way I can describe that his work is “somewhat like Bruce Timm”. It is nice and usually a cartoony style I like, but it is such a large shift and so stylistically different that I never really felt it fight the story. Bright, another very skilled artist, brings a more standard comic book look. While it lacks the more exotic look of the Jusko (or earlier Texiera) it certainly fits better Manley.
What really hit me while reading these issues is how it felt like the opposite side of the same coin as the Brubaker issues I’m reading. Brubaker feels very grounded in a reality, albeit a reality that allows for Captain America to exist. There is political machinations throughout informing the story. The same could be said for Black Panther, except it doesn’t bother for realism and instead feels like the dial has been turned to 11. To compare it to another medium, Brubaker is going for Le Carre spy, then priest is hitting the James Cameron True Lies version. Both are awesome, but they are doing very different things.
What really makes this series great is what it does for T’Challa. The argument could easily be made that his being a monarch has never been more than flavoring for most of his appearances. Bear with me her. Matt Murdoch has always had his life as a lawyer played up. His being a lawyer feels essential to the character of Daredevil. To make him a florist would feel odd. It rarely feels important that T’Challa is a king. It only seems important in the few issues where it was important to a story and then it goes back to just background info. Priest’s run so far has been about making T’Challa being a king, and the brilliance that requires to be successful, an integral part of the story. And that makes this a tale worth reading.
Plus the bad guy has an evil hand puppet.
Wrap Up: This is going to be the run that the upcoming Ta-Nehisi Coates is going to be ultimately competing against. These first 12 issues set up the Black Panther in a way that he is exciting, interesting and a unique force in the Marvel universe. While there has been some good stuff since Priest, I don’t think anything has risen to this level or so successfully defined the character.